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This review is taken from PN Review 107, Volume 22 Number 3, January - February 1996.

MAYO RHYMES MICHAEL LONGLEY, The Ghost Orchid (Cape) £7.00

In a recent essay entitled 'Geoliterature', J.C.C. Mays briefly refers to the attitudes of various Irish poets toward nature. Heaney's enterprise, for all its tact, is 'anthropomorphic by definition', while 'Michael Longley's celebrations of flora and fauna please readers who can do without the guilt', articulating a view which is, at least to this reviewer, deaf to certain registers in Longley's poetry. In Gorse Fires (1991), knowledge of the Holocaust, the Spanish Civil War and the Troubles in Northern Ireland charges the landscape poems: that is, it both indicts and energises them. Neither are the book's versions of Homer 'escapist'. The final poem, 'The Butchers', is a dear reference to the Loyalist murder gang of the 1970s, the Shankhill Butchers. So Ithaca gives onto Belfast. At other times, it is the tone of the poems that carries the weight of the knowledge and guilt, that conveys the sense that the moment of awe as one watches a swallow's flight over the duach is hard-won from the roar and chaos of larger forces.

All this, and more, is true of Longley's latest book, The Ghost Orchid, published in March of this year. There is no doubt that both books are of a piece and that he has established a style that is all his own. Once again we have the long verse sentences swerving and flowing with riverine assurance through various terrains. Once again there are the landscapes of Mayo, with that county's place-names - Dooagh, Allaran, Thallabawn ...


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